US upbeat on mega Asia-Pacific free trade pact
NUSA DUA, Indonesia - The United States said Saturday, October 5, a tough, year-end deadline for a giant free trade pact in the Asia-Pacific was achievable, after negotiators made "significant progress" on sensitive issues.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman sounded an upbeat tone following negotiations on the Indonesian island of Bali with his counterparts from the 11 other nations involved in the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership.
"We spent a great deal of time this week working on TPP. The TPP countries are strongly committed to working to conclude negotiations this year," Froman told reporters.
US President Barack Obama has said he wants to reach a deal by the end of this year on the TPP, which would account for more than 40 percent of the global economy.
The United States has spearheaded the negotiations for the free trade area, describing it as creating "gold standards" for the 21st Century economy by taking into account fast-changing sectors such as intellectual property.
However, there has been resistance from various members within the diverse group to many provisions within the TPP, and analysts have said that a deal matching US ambitions by the end of this year is impossible.
Froman said negotiators had tackled some of those sensitive issues, such as weakening the influence of state owned enterprises, intellectual property and environment regulations.
"We've made significant progress this week and we look forward to briefing the TPP leaders on Tuesday about that progress and getting their political level guidance to facilitate the conclusion of negotiations," he said.
Those leaders are scheduled to hold a meeting on the sidelines of a two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali starting on Monday, October 7.
The TPP would bring together the economies of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Canada, Mexico and Peru.
China, which has not been invited to join the pact, is pursuing a rival free trade deal involving 16 Asia-Pacific nations.
The United States has used the TPP as part of its so-called strategic "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific, emphasising the economic benefits for the region if it goes ahead.
US commitment to the region has been under fierce scrutiny after Obama cancelled his trip to Indonesia for the leaders' summit so he could focus on a political crisis in Washington that has paralysed the government.
Froman and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is filling in for Obama at APEC, sought to highlight the TPP progress as proof the US remained committed to the region.
"None of what is happening in Washington diminishes one iota our commitment to our partners in Asia, including our efforts for both trade and investment throughout the region," Kerry said in a press conference alongside Froman. - Rappler.com